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Blues breakaway
With Hill Country Revue, North Mississippi Allstar drummer Cody Dickinson is calling the shots
Cody Dickinson, third from left, is the driving force behind Mississippi's Hill Country Revue.

Onstage June 3 at the Live Wire Music Hall, Hill Country Revue plays the kind of down ‘n' dirty, gutbucket electric blues that made the North Mississippi Allstars one of the brightest lights on the jam-festival circuit.

Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew, two-thirds of the Allstars (on drums and bass, respectively) put Hill Country together last year when guitarist Luther Dickinson (Cody's older brother, the other member of the trio) went off to work on side projects for a while.

"The North Mississippi Allstars toured for like 10 years straight," Cody Dickinson explains. "In 2008, Luther joined the Black Crowes full-time, so the All-Stars were put on hold.

"And I just made a very conscious decision to continue doing what I had been doing in one way or the other. So I started calling the baddest, most talented musicians I knew."

Dickinson, 33, is particularly excited because Hill Country Revue has a drummer, and it ain't him. After so long behind the drum kit, he's out front, playing guitar and singing lead.

"I started playing drums accompanying my brother's guitar playing years ago," he explains. "But I still play piano, organ and guitar, among other instruments. The All-Stars never stifled me, so to speak; I don't feel like I was held back, by any means.

"But I must say that as soon as I started doing Hill Country Revue, things just started happening naturally - as opposed to forcing them - and it felt right. It was so apparent to me that this was meant to be."

Hill Country's other guitarist is Kirk Smithhart, who won the Blues Foundation's Albert King award for Best Guitarist when he was 19.

Dickinson concedes that the Allstars, by virtue of their success, have become somewhat "set in their ways" and have to perform certain songs, in specific arrangements, in concert.

With Hill Country Revue, there are no such rules.

"Hill Country Revue is like the North Mississippi All-Stars' unruly sibling," Dickinson laughs. "There are more similarities than differences, musically - but Hill Country Revue is still wide open. It's still a dynamic, changing, new entity ... plus there's all this new blood."

The band's recorded debut, Make a Move, is a collection of hard-edged and funky juke-joint blues songs written by Garry Burnside, whose father, the late R.L. Burnside, was a cornerstone of the "hill country" blues style from the upper regions of Mississippi.

The Dickinson brothers' father is Jim Dickinson, the great Memphis-based session and road pianist (he was a charter member of that city's legendary studio band, the Dixie Flyers) and a well-known record producer.

"He never forced music on us, by any means," Cody Dickinson says. "He had instruments available and around and we just sort of picked ‘em up and started playing.

"But ever since I can remember, music has just made sense to me, And it's what I focused on. My parents gave me the space and the time to hone my craft at a very young age. So when it was time to go out and perform, I was ready."

The North Mississippi Allstars are still a going concern (in fact, Hill Country Revue sometimes opens Allstars shows, giving Dickinson a chance to do double duty in a single night).

Not a bad gig for a guy who's been playing professionally - and virtually nonstop - since he was a teenager.

"It's sort of a renegade lifestyle, maybe a little sub-social, acceptably," Dickinson says. "But it gave me direction and focus in my life that I feel like I truly would have been lost without.

"Being a rock ‘n' roll musician is like the wildest profession you could have, but at the same time, I feel like growing up there's no tellin' what kind of trouble I would have gotten into, or what kind of ridiculous things I would've done, had I not been so focused on my career."

Listen & Learn:


Hill Country Revue

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, June 3

Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show


Phone: (912) 233-1192